Discover Vintage America - NOVEMBER 2017
Fraser's 'End of the Trail' reproduced in public domain
Q: Do you have any information on my sculpture, "End of the Trail," by James E. Fraser? Around 20 years ago we purchased it for $2,000 and are curious as to what it might be worth now. It's about 31 inches tall by 29 inches long.
A: I am asked about the iconic "End of the Trail" bronze figure by James Earle Fraser almost as often as works by Frederic Remington. I decided that with the gift-giving season almost upon us now would be an excellent time to talk about his bronze figure.
James E. Fraser was an American sculptor, teacher and designer of the Buffalo nickel. Born in Wisconsin in 1876, he died in Connecticut in 1953. The sculpture is based on Fraser's experiences growing up in Mitchell, SD where he met Native Americans, hunters, trappers and miners.
In his memoir he wrote, "As a boy, I remembered an old Dakota trapper saying, 'The Indians will someday be pushed into the Pacific Ocean.'" Fraser later said, "The idea occurred to me of making an Indian, which represented his race, reaching the end of the trail, at the edge of the Pacific." The sculpture depicts a defeated American Indian, slumped over on the back of his horse and carrying a spear.
In 1915, Fraser displayed a monumental plaster version (almost life size) of the work at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco, earning popular acclaim and a gold medal.
The design was meant to be cast in bronze, but World War I shortages delayed the process. Fraser's original plaster model is on display at the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City. The first original bronze casting was purchased by a collector who in 1929 donated it to the community of Waupun, WI, Fraser's boyhood home, and where it remains.
In 1918, Fraser began making smaller versions of the original sculpture. He only made two sizes for sale to the public and sources differ what those sizes were and the number that were made. Unfortunately, the sculptor never copyrighted his work. As a result, many people have profited by making copies in one form or another. Currently, there are tens of thousands of this design being made and sold on-line or in shops ranging from bronze figures to t-shirts.
Fraser did not make a cent on reproductions made after his initial payment from the Pan Pacific Exhibition. Yet, this iconic symbol lives on today.
Comparable versions of this statue have sold in the past two years ranging in price from $150 to $6,000. The more expensive items sold in high-end auctions, galleries and shops. On the lower end, I noticed one for sale at a major big box store for less than $100.
Without physically seeing and handling the figure it is difficult for me to quote an exact price. The original reproductions are pretty much accounted for in private collections and museums. If I had this in my shop I would price it at $350 and go from there.
If you have a family member or friend who loves Old West items this would make the perfect gift as long as you feel comfortable with the price and the sculpture looks to be heavy and in good condition.
Fraser's commissions also include coins and medals, such as the World War I Victory Medal, the Navy Cross, and the Indian Head (Buffalo) nickel. This coin was discontinued after 1938, but has since been reprised in 2001 on a U.S. commemorative coin, and more recently on a gold buffalo one-ounce gold bullion coin.
Note: All prices given are for sale in a private sale, antique shop or other resale outlet. Price is also dependent upon the geographic area in which you are selling. Auction value, selling to a dealer or pawnshop prices are about half or less of resale value.
Michelle Staley is a Lenexa, KS-based dealer and researcher with 35 years of experience in the antique trade. Send questions with photos to Michelle to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please keep queries to one question; questions without photos of the item may not be answered. Michelle is also available for consulting and extensive research work beyond this column. If you would like an appraisal on an antique or collectible please go to www.michelleknowsantiques.com for a one-on-one appraisal.